What Is Garcinia Cambogia?

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

The extracts from the fruit of the Garcinia cambogia plant are marketed for weight loss -- either by themselves or in combination with other ingredients. The fruit of this tropical plant is rich in an active substance classified as hydroxycitric acid. Manufacturers claim garcinia suppresses your body's fat production and helps curb appetite. Some manufacturers claim garcinia helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and this might help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Evidence of garcinia's benefits is largely lacking, and it may cause side effects, so consult your health care provider before taking such supplements.

Conflicting Evidence for Fat Loss

Researchers reviewed published studies to determine whether there is solid evidence to support the use of garcinia for weight loss in humans and concluded that there isn't enough evidence to say for sure. The authors, who reported their findings in a 2012 issue of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, assert that while some studies show garcinia promotes fat loss in humans, other clinical trials fail to demonstrate the same result. Larger, long-term studies are needed to support the potential effectiveness of garcinia, according to the authors.

Jury Out on Appetite Suppression

While animal studies suggest garcinia may help curb appetite, it's impossible to say whether this effect translates to humans based on available research. One small study, published in a 2014 issue of the journal Food and Function, carried out on 28 volunteers -- mostly women -- showed that a supplement containing garcinia reduced hunger and lowered cravings for high-fat foods. The supplement combined garcinia with two other ingredients, however, so it's impossible to tell whether the appetite effects are because of garcinia.

May Lower Triglycerides

A small study published in the June 2014 issue of the journal Phytotherapy Research evaluated the effect of garcinia on cholesterol and triglycerides in obese women. The women were between the ages of 25 and 60 years old and took garcinia for 60 days. At the end of the study, researchers found that garcinia failed to cause a significant change in cholesterol. Garcinia did significantly reduce triglyceride levels, however. This evidence demonstrates that, at least in the short-term, garcinia may lower triglycerides. But it's not yet known whether that translates into a lower risk of heart disease.

Supplement Safety

As with all supplements, garcinia has the capacity to cause side effects. Mild adverse reactions have been reported such as headache, dry mouth, dizziness and gastrointestinal upset like diarrhea. There are rare reports of liver damage linked to certain weight-loss supplements that contain garcinia in combination with other ingredients. Garcinia may increase levels of serotonin -- a brain chemical involved in mood. This may make it unsafe to take if you're prescribe a class of anti-depressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. There is a case of serotonin toxicity linked to taking garcinia with an SSRI, according to a report published in December 2014 issue of the Journal of Medical Toxicology. Serotonin toxicity is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when too much serotonin accumulates in your body.

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